Paul DELVAUX (Antheit, 1897 – Furnes, 1994)

View of a Canal

5.5 x 13 cm. (2 3/16 x 5 1/8 in.) (by eye)

Stamped on verso: Paul Delvaux Carnet n°7 Page 3 B

• France, Private Collection.

• Virginie Devillers, Paul Delvaux: le théâtre des figures, Editions of the University of Brussels, Brussels, 1992.
• Z. Barthelman et J. Van Deun, Paul Delvaux, odyssée d’un rêve, Fondation Paul Delvaux, Saint-Idesbald, 2007.

Classified as a Post Impressionist, Expressionist, and then Surrealist, Paul Devaux’ career was as rich as it was varied. A child enthralled with drawing which he started doing while very young, Delvaux naturally oriented his career towards the practice of art.

After training at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts under the Symbolist painter Jean Delville (1867-1953), Delvaux discovered and became fascinated by James Ensor (1860-1949), and then Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), whose oeuvre let him understand Surrealism during the de Chirico exhibition in Brussels in 1934. Eternally unsatisfied, Delvaux destroyed many of his works in the 1920s. After a few works which sometimes classified as a parallel realist, sometimes as Surrealism, he was finally invited to exhibit with the Surrealists in Paris in 1938.

Intrigued by René Magritte’s work (1898-1967) whose ingenious compositions profoundly impressed him, Delvaux began to work and select some themes and subjects that became recurrent and then omnipresent in his pictures. They included nude women and men clothed in suits with a frozen hieratic pose caught in phantasmagorical urban views reproducing a form of personal reality.

Our drawing depicts a canal probably inspired by one of the railways which he loved so much and which appear many times in his oeuvre. The railways are not only aesthetically interesting, but an allegory of progress and change reflecting his career.

In this drawing which seems to be preparatory for a more ambitious painted work, the artist uses fusain almost as if it were stump to depict the desired foggy atmosphere. Our composition probably served as inspiration for realizing part of his famous work Abandon and one of his preparatory India ink drawings conserved in the Ixelles Museum (ill. 1). The part of the work depicting an open view towards the outdoors is close to our composition whose thick vertical line on the left side recalls the columns which structure the balcony in the final work. Particular to Surrealist works, the viewer is invited to let his imagination loose and adopt a second point of view: our drawing could be a depiction of a calm lake on which a few lively barges are floating enlivened by a few people.

Without ever joining the group of Surrealists created by André Breton, Delvaux nonetheless was inspired throughout his career by most of the great figures in this movement.

In 1979, fifteen years before his death, Paul Delvaux created the Paul Delvaux Foundation for the proper conservation of his pictures and the transmission of his work. Largely formed from his personal collection, the Foundation holds the largest collection of canvases, drawings and prints by his hand. Delvaux also bequeathed his archives, as well as the management of his copyrights.
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